The Year Gone By – 2017

Without doubt, the best read of the year was Rana Ayyub’s Gujarat Files, a result of the young Indian journalist’s investigation into the extrajudicial killings of Sohrabbudin and others and its cover up by a network of government functionaries, civil and police officials and the majority of the mainstream media. Indeed, the key change in the last few years has been the throttling of the media as it has become corporatized and aligned with the government in power. Ayyub took on the identity of an Indian American filmmaker to gain access to middle and senior level officials.

Her own employer recalled her just when she was about to get direct access to the Chief Minister of Gujarat (and now the Prime Minister of India), Narendra Modi. The key person allegedly involved in the execution of the extrajudicial killings by the police was the then Home Minister of Gujarat and the current national president of the ruling Hindu right-wing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. It’s not just the courage of the journalist and the depth of her findings but also the breezy narration, which reads like a crime thriller, that makes Gujarat Files such an engrossing read. In more open times, a book like this would have shaken the government.

On a related note, the 84 page booklet The Amit Shah School of Election Management by another young journalist Prashant Jha provides a number of insights on how the far right Modi- Shah election machine continues to roll on- with the BJP being the ruling party in 18 out of 29 states in India this year.

Random Picks

A book I picked up randomly just because I haven’t read recent Russian literature for a while was Vladmir Sorokin’s The Queue. The novel is about the late Soviet period, a time that hasn’t inspired any great works of literature. The Queue is a notable exception. The book is a subtle take on the dreary years of scarcity in the last few years of the USSR and an insightful look into the lives and minds of the ordinary citizens. The absurdity of the situation is revealed in the dramatic end, as funny as it is ironic. Continue reading “The Year Gone By – 2017”


Jeene Nahin Doonga: India’s Persistent Partitions

By Bhupinder Singh

I was 16 when two major political events happened: the first was the Indian army’s assault on the Harmandir Sahib, and the second was Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination by two of her security men. Even then, I realized that Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination was historic, so much that one of the only two full editions of newspapers I have saved in my archives is dated November 1, 1984, which published the news of her assassination. The other one is the day that Mikhail Gorbachev was deposed in a coup organized by the hardliners within the Soviet Communist Party.

A perusal of the newspaper datelined a day after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination makes for an interesting reading, 33 years on.

bhupinder-singhThe Tribune’s City edition, which used to be the last one printed in the early hours of the day and carried the latest news stories has a huge capitalized headline on the front page, “Indira Gandhi Shot dead”, followed by three more subtitles, “Rajiv Gandhi takes over as Prime Minister”, “Security men involved in killing” and “5-man Cabinet sworn in”. All of the front page is predictably filled with reports titled “Alert in region”, “World leaders shocked”, “Funeral on Saturday”, “Dastardly act: President”, “Shun violence, says Rajiv”, “12-day state mourning”, “Army alerted”, “Eyewitness accounts”, “Anguish, confusion in Amritsar” and “One killed, many hurt in violence”. It is ironic that the event is now associated less with Mrs. Gandhi herself and more with the violence that followed it. Continue reading “Jeene Nahin Doonga: India’s Persistent Partitions”

Jangalnama- Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone- a review

Jangalnama- Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone by Satnam, translated by Vishav Bharti- a review.

‘In the light of a candle, drinking maté (a local drink) and eating a piece of bread and cheese, the man’s shrunken features stuck a mysterious, tragic note. In simple but expressive language, he told us about his three months in prison, his starving wife, and his children left in the care of a kindly neighbor, his fruitless pilgrimage in search of work and his comrades, who had mysteriously disappeared and were said to somewhere at the bottom of the sea’. These copper mines – ‘ spiced with the lives of poor unsung heroes of this battle, who die miserable deaths, when all they want is to earn is their daily bread’

– Che Guevara, describing the life of a working class couple in the copper mines of Chuquicamata. (The Motorcycle Diaries)

At the age of 23, Che undertook a journey on a motorcycle across South America and wrote a journal based on it. The journal was published in a book form titled The Motorcycle Diaries a decade or so back. Satnam’s Jangalnama could well be a sequel to that book, written in the context of the Red India, as the Maoist controlled belt has come to be known.

There are differences, of course. Che was young, fresh out of medical college. He rode a motorcycle and was essentially on an adventure tour during the course of which he got to see the underbelly of South America and about which he wrote so eloquently. This journey was part of his education in becoming a revolutionary soon after.
Continue reading “Jangalnama- Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone- a review”


A very comprehensive essay on The Dreyfus Affair that split French opinion in the 1890s- 1900s.  (wikipedia link) and which in literature is most remembered for the references it finds in Proust’s works. I found the following observation to be quite insightful though it is tangential to the topic.

In any modernized country, the backward-looking party will always tend toward resentment and grievance. The key is to keep the conservatives feeling that they are an alternative party of modernity. (This was Disraeli’s great achievement, as it was, much later, de Gaulle’s.) When the conservative party comes to see itself as unfairly marginalized, it becomes a party of pure reaction…

Githa Hariharan has a fine column in The Telegraph where she writes about the ‘kitsch in everyday life‘:
Continue reading “Links…”

What Hemant Hegde did not know about Hindutva

On Friday, Hindu radicals in the southern state of Karnataka stymied plans to erect a 20m (67ft) statue of the film star, on the grounds that he was a Christian. The move came amid a backlash against Western culture that has raised concerns that parts of India are at risk of being “Talebanised” by Hinduism’s far Right.

The Chaplin sculpture was being built at a cost of about 3.5 million rupees (£48,600) near the town of Udupi, the site of several Hindu temples. The structure was to form part of a film set, but work ground to a halt when Hindu activists chased the workers away and buried the building materials.

Hemant Hegde, the film-maker, told local reporters that he abandoned the project after being threatened by a mob of about 50 people, whose leader told him: “We will not allow you to construct a statue of a Christian actor.” Source

Mr. Hemant Hegde should have known that the Hindutva bandwagon don’t have no sense of humour. Charlie – humanist and communist- would have laughed at this episode, or he might have made this speech, if someone cared to listen.

Welcome, Barack Hope Obama

Listening to the first debate between presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, it was very evident that it was a contest between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The two disagreed on the approach towards taxation and the American economy, but on every foreign policy issue, Obama agreed wholeheartedly with McCain, except the war in Iraq, which has become a drain on US economy. The other thing that stuck out was, of course, the color of Obama’s skin. Continue reading “Welcome, Barack Hope Obama”

Has the Good Doctor finally found his feet?

When I look at the composition of the opportunistic group opposed to us, it is clear to me that the clash today is between two alternative visions of India’s future. The one vision represented by the UPA and our allies seeks to project India as a self confident and united nation moving forward to gain its rightful place in the comity of nations, making full use of the opportunities offered by a globalised world, operating on the frontiers of modern science and technology and using modern science and technology as important instruments of national economic and social development. The opposite vision is of a motley crowd opposed to us who have come together to share the spoils of office to promote their sectional, sectarian and parochial interests.

Manmohan Singh’s speech after the trust vote is quite eloquent, and reflects the mood of a combative person coming into his own, after all he has just won the trust vote by quite an impressive margin given the developments last few days. There is little to differ from the intentions of the words in the speech. It is the manner in which the whole showdown was conducted and the context in which the speech had to be made at all that is questionable and where the eloquence of the words fails ground reality.
Continue reading “Has the Good Doctor finally found his feet?”

Nuclear Deal and the Tragic End of an Experiment

Prakash Karat’s obduracy has finally been matched by that of Manmohan Singh. While some may claim that the latter has now matured into a politician, it is important to remember that Singh has always been a deft politician of the values that he represents- that of the neo- liberal Right. There is nothing new in this, except that he has now chosen to go break altogether with the Left, his firmest supporters for the past four years.

Continue reading “Nuclear Deal and the Tragic End of an Experiment”

Football in the time of Cholera

The BBC has a report on the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s World Cup victory over Holland, in the backdrop of the oppression let loose by the military junta at that time:

“When they played a game over the speakers, it was very contradictory – because the executioners, those who tortured us, and us the victims both cried ‘Goal Argentina!'” he said.

And we know that they took prisoners out when there were distractions caused by the World Cup and shot them,” he said.

Why BJP govt will succeed in Karnataka

34 000 Hindu temples told to perform worship for BJP govt in Karnataka

This means that all the 34,000 temples that come under the muzrai department will have to toe the government line. Defending his move, Chetty said that as the state was facing a crisis, divine blessings were necessary to maintain peace. He hinted that divine intervention was also being sought to help the young BJP government tide over the fertilizer crisis.

Once the media briefing was over the minister offered ‘prasada’ (laddu) to the reporters like he did on the day of his swearing in.

Each government-run temple in the state gets a minimum tasdik (annual grant) of Rs 6,000. Prior to JD(S)-BJP coalition government, tasdik amount varied from Re 1 to Rs 50,000. Taking special interest in temple issues, Yeddyurappa, who was a finance minister in the coalition set up, earmarked Rs 21.48 crore as tasdik amount in the 2007-08 budgets as against Rs 6.12 crore in 2006-07.

In Bangalore urban district alone there are 1,016 muzrai temples.

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A Politician called Manmohan Singh

One of the ‘selling points’ for the neo- liberal reforms initiated during Narasimha Rao’s years of prime minister- ship was that these reforms were worked out and led by a non- politician- Dr Manmohan Singh. Indeed, his continued projection as a non- politician- and specifically as a professional economist- has been seen to provide a legitimacy for the neo- liberal offensive, though sometimes it has been used by his political opponents to attack his credentials in holding a political post.

Both of these perspectives are flawed, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Manmohan Singh’s professional background as a technocrat cannot be reason enough to see him as a non- politician.
Continue reading “A Politician called Manmohan Singh”

Demandalizing Mandal

When the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report was announced during VP Singh led National Front regime, my first reaction was to oppose it. This natural, even if a knee jerk reaction, was because it did not reconcile with the notions of class and in my view it actually was detrimental to formation of class consciousness. It was not that I was not aware of the caste system or its vagaries, however, I shared the unstated Nehruvian belief that economic development and education would do away with the caste system. The first pillar of belief that fell in those days, therefore, was that education could be equated with egalitarianism and humanism.

My views changed quite dramatically within a few days as opposition to the announcement gathered force and “upper” caste-ism came to the fore. This aroused my first doubts – if this Report is something that is so rabidly hated by those, who I agreed were relatively privileged “upper” caste folks, then something is amiss. What clinched the issue was the intemperate and insulting language the protesters employed against whom they considered to be the beneficiaries- the backward castes but also the scheduled castes who were more easily identifiable because they were already availing the reserved quotas.

In the early days following the announcement, it was difficult to even get hold of the Report. I managed to get a xeroxed copy from a local NGO’s social scientist. What amazed me was the sheer force of the arguments in the report that transformed my views within a few days, if not overnight. So, it is a bit disconcerting that even after nearly two decades, I am not able to find an online version of the Report, because I remember it went much beyond just making the case for reservations. In the process of implementing one of its recommendations, it’s thrust has been diluted, and hence “demandalized.”

However, I have been able to find this 2003 article by SS Gill, who was the secretary to the Commission when it submitted its report and where he points to the bigger picture painted by the Report.

Diluting Mandal

On the face of it, the radical change in the political landscape of the country marks the setting right of ancient historical wrongs. Or does it? In fact, to some extent, the Mandal Commission report was `demandalised’ during the very process of its implementation. Of the dozen or so recommendations, only one pertaining to reservation was picked up, as it had the highest visibility and attracted immediate attention. More far-reaching recommendations regarding structural changes in the land-tenurial system, and institutional reforms for the educational and economic uplift of the OBCs were not even noticed. The attention thus got focussed on the fruits rather than the roots and branches of the tree of affirmative action.

Related Post: Dr Ambedkar on reservations for OBCs

Our Country and Advani’s Life

BG Verghese critically reviews L.K. Advani’s autobiography, “My Country, My Life”…. the life may be his, but the country is fortunately far more than any single individual’s. The title is reminiscent of the individualism propagated during Rajiv Gandhi’s time: “mera bharat mahan” (“my India is great”) which IMHO, would have been more slightly more generous had the “mera” (my) been replaced by “hamara” (our). That is, if at all the slogan was apt in the first place.

Mr Advani has also referred to Satyapal Dang, the CPI leader from Punjab as “the late Satyapal Dang”. The veteran leader has responded by proclaiming that he is still alive, and that though Advani may admire him, it would be most unfortunate if Advani became the Prime Minister.

A few excerpts from the review, followed by a statement issued by Comrade Satyapal Dang.

So where does this leave “cultural nationalism”? Mr Advani describes the 1992 Babri demolition as a “Hindu awakening” and is pleased to cite Girilal Jain’s certificate that “You have made history”. Having taken a bow, Mr Advani describes the day as the “saddest” in his life. Yet he laid the ground for that day with his 1990 Rath Yatra that sowed dragon seeds of hate. The event was followed by a trail of riots that took 600 lives. He lit the fire but blames the wind.

The same with the Gujarat riots, one of the worst blots in India’s record since Independence. Mr Advani commends Modi, but disowns any responsibility as a leading BJP stalwart, Gandhinagar MP and Union Home Minister. He cites the communal count of those killed in police firing to suggest even handedness and promptitude of action, setting aside contemporary evidence of official complicity which continues to this day. Police officers who stood firm were promptly “promoted” and transferred! Speaking over AIR, Mr Modi told terrified victims of the holocaust that if they desired peace they should not seek justice. Nothing more despicable could have been said. Alas, Mr Advani fiddled while Gujarat burned.

Here is the news item with Comrade Dang’s rejoinder as well as Bhai Ranjit Singh, the former Jathedar of the Akal Takht pointing to yet another discrepancy in the book.

In chapter 7 of the book “The trauma and triumph of Punjab” Advani has written “as the late Satya Pal Dang, an Amritsar-based Communist leader whom I admire for his courageous campaign against Khalistan”. Though Advani said that he admire Dang, the latter said it would be most unfortunate if a person like Advani became Prime Minister.

The facts on high profile Nirankari murder given in the book are also distorted, which earned flak from Bhai Ranjit Singh, former Jathedar, Akal Takht, who spent a long time in Tihar Jail in connection with the assassination of Baba Gurbachan Singh Nirankari. He said Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala was never among the list of 20 accused persons as mentioned in the book. He claimed that there were only four persons arrested by the CBI who were later released on personal bonds.

The former jathedar said it was shocking that Advani did not know the bare facts pertaining to the Nirankari murder case because Giani Zail Singh was not the union home minister when the four arrested by the CBI were released. The union home minister was P.C. Sethi, he claimed.

Ramar Sethu and the Lessons for the Narmada Bachao Andolan

Now we all know why the Narmada Bachao Andolan failed. Despite numerous marches, despite the indefatigable Medha Patkar’s serial hunger strikes, despite the efforts of many grass- roots workers and despite Arundhati Roy’s eloquence.They all failed to find a connection between the site of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and Lord Rama.

They could not even find an association with Shabari, the Bhil woman who offered the gods ‘bers’ and that apparently were left half- eaten. It was left to the RSS parivar to discover the exact spot where the encounter took place, and it started the Shabari Kumbh Mela to commemorate the event. Too bad the spot did not lie exactly where the Sardar Sarovar dam stands.

But the NBA has itself to blame for not having done a one up and discovered the place sooner, since the RSS discovered the site only in October 2004. Had the NBA done its due diligence it certainly would have located that place to be exactly where the Sardar Sarovar Dam stands today. And the RSS brigade would have stepped in to lend the NBA a helping hand.

The NBA could then have outsourced the entire opposition to dam to the Hindutva brigade that certainly needs no further inspiration to get going for a cause than its association with Lord Rama. It would have deepened fissures within the Hindutva family and even have dislodged the pride of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, wrecking the family from within.

The NBA’s fault lay in that it tried to oppose the dam in the name of the poor, in the name of the adivasis who would be displaced. Worse, it tried to base its case on data and “scientific evidence”, which was easily countered by equally authentic statistics and real scientific evidence from the state governments led by both the BJP and the Congress.

Contrast this with the case for the Ramar Sethu also called the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project. All it needed to build opposition to the project was not the question of its ecological and environmental impact, not speeches in the name of the poor or its RoI but to invoke an association with Lord Rama. So much so that it woke up the sleeping Dravidian in M. Karunanidhi, who went asking for Lord Rama’s engineering qualifications.

On Saturday, addressing a public meeting at Erode in Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi, while opposing the stalling of Ram Sethu project, had said “who is this Ram? From which engineering college he graduated?” (link)

This would be amusing were it not just so silly. Not so much the question of Lord Rama’s engineering degree but that of Karunanidhi remembering that there was once upon a time a movement called the self respect movement that he belonged to and that had posed questions like these in circa 1967. The era of Rip Van Winkles is not yet over! Soon he may also remember that Periyar garlanded Lord Rama’s statues with slippers.

From the point of view of those who oppose the project from environment and displacement concerns and who seem to be getting only the space in the “Letters to the Editor” page, like this one, the good news is that everyone from Lal Krishan Advani to Ram Vilas Vedanti is now on the job.

Free of cost.

Having been out of work (and media attention) since Advani’s Jinnah fiasco and Vedanti’s appearance in a TV ‘sting operation’ few months back, they now have a serious task at hand. Advaniji is already planning yet another Rath Yatra.

Those with a Marxist inclination need not feel out of place either- Karunanidhi thanking the VHP for issuing the call for his beheading illustrates one of the central dictum of Marxist dialectics- the unity and struggle of opposites.

DMK chief M Karunanidhi reacted curtly to the threat, saying “the head is not just something that is on your shoulder, but it’s also an address.” Talking to CNN-IBN, he said: “Even if someone takes off my head my address will remain in TN.”

With that much needed reassurance for the inhabitants of Tamil Nadu, the stage is now set for a win- win deal for everyone. Environmentalism in India is now in safe hands. The fishermen whose livelihood is directly impacted by the project and who have had no one to listen to them now have hordes of Ram Bhaktas battling for them. Amen!

(For anyone interested in a non- Hindutva opposition perspective to the project, based on outmoded ‘scientific’ studies, see this paper in that quaint journal called the Economic and Political Weekly. Link via Pankaj’s blog. Also check out the Wikipedia entry)

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Of Forks and Spoons, and the Devil in the Detail

Some reporters have a mesmerizing eye for detail. Sample these two reports, one regarding the swearing in ceremony of Mayawati’s cabinet and the other regarding Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Laloo Yadav at the dinner table on the 3rd anniversary of the UPA government.

This is a report from Akhilesh Kumar Singh in the ToI (When Brahmins did not touch Mayawati’s feet), italics mine:

While all the MLAs who took oath as ministers lined up to touch the BSP chief’s feet, some of them refrained from doing so. It wasn’t social engineering’s finest moment.

While nearly all Dalit ministers touched Mayawati’s feet, those belonging to upper castes simply bowed and took her aashirvad . Ministers, including Thakur Jaiveer Singh, Rangnath Mishra, Anant Mishra, Nakul Dubey and Daddan Mishra — none made the proverbial “dive”.

and this is by Sheela Bhatt in Rediff (UPA@3: Perfect evening, old tale)

The most talked about personality in the entire evening was inevitably Uttar Pardesh Chief Minister Mayawati. Though invited to the gathering, she did not attend the dinner. Nor did she send any representative from Lucknow.The ruling elite of India, at the high table, spoke softly and did not laugh much.

Now here is the irony. While Sonia ate with her hands, Lalu chose to eat with fork and spoon.

While one agrees, more or less, with the inferences in the first report, it is difficult to do so with the second one- there is no irony in Lalu using a fork and Mrs Gandhi using her hands, on the contrary this  underlines of the inclusiveness exhibited by both.

Eating- and the manner of eating is, more often than not, a symbol of identity than about the food itself.  Nothing can be more comforting, or touching, than a rustic Laloo using fork and spoon and the Italian born Mrs Gandhi employing her hands, in a very Indian way.

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